Behind Treme’s Hard Season Opener

[Spoiler alert] As we learned late in season one of Treme, obsessing over the raw factuality of the show is dangerous. The clues were there as to what Creighton Bernette’s fate might be, but viewers in New Orleans largely missed them because of the fixation on Ashley Morris as the character’s inspiration—overlooking the degree to which Stevenson Palfi was in his DNA too. Treme has many masters, and the larger truths of the recovery and the show’s drama have equal if not greater roles in determining what happens than any pure, historical truth. I assume there are mundane reasons why the Dirty Dozen Brass Band subbed for the Soul Rebels in the performance of “From the Corner to the Block” with Galactic and Juvenile (the Rebels were commuting between Houston and New Orleans to play each weekend for most of 2006), and though Annie (Lucia Micarelli) is clearly a musician whose stock has risen since the end of season one, it’s a reach to see her as touring as an opener for the subdudes (though it was great to hear her play with them). Still, the drama of the episode has a reason to keep her out of town until midway through the show, and that need—perhaps along with the desire to hear the subdudes with a violin—clearly trumps dull truth.

HBO Treme Episode 1 But it’s hard to imagine anyone who lived here in 2006 who doesn’t recognize the complicated, painful conversation Delmond (Rob Brown) has with sympathizers after his gig. The speed with which well-wishers drifted into coded criticism of New Orleans was as discouraging as it was angering, but they also tweaked the sort of mixed emotions in us that they do in Delmond: New Orleans might be a mess, but it’s our mess, and we’re the only ones who can we can talk about what a mess it is.

HBO Treme Episode 1 One of the most striking scenes in the episode is a silent one with Janette (Kim Dickens) alone in a bar in Manhattan. It’s wordless and motionless, but it’s also startling. In the biggest, busiest, most crowded city in America, she can be that alone. On the other hand, New Orleans is a social town under the best of circumstances, and when so many houses were mid-renovation we were all in bars or around other people. The New Orleans scenes, for all of their broken landscape and dysfunctionality, seem warmer and more vital by contrast, and that’s clearest when contrasted with the other bar scene—when Hector (Jon Seda) comes to Gigi’s and shows off his Latin dance moves while flirting with LaDonna (Khandi Alexander).

The season opens some interesting questions. For example, when Davis (Steve Zahn) plays bounce until the GM comes in to ream him, is he doing so out of Davis’ contrary nature, or is a simmering anger creeping into his nature (We now know after Creighton Bernette’s fate that we can’t take characters at face value and assume they’re all well-grounded)? To what extent is Sofia (India Ennenga) her father’s daughter? Is there some Sister Carrie in Annie’s rise?

Did you catch:

- Sonny (Michiel Huisman) calling the Loose Marbles “poseurs”? A nice, very New Orleans moment, when a New Orleans transplant calls out a more recent New Orleans transplant? The Loose Marbles started as street musicians performing in New Orleans around this time.

- Lt. Terry Colson (David Morse) referring to “Zach and Addie” in a phone call? Their sad story’s its own tale, but it’s resonant in Treme because many speculating on the “muses” for characters at one time thought that their doomed relationship might be the model for Sonny and Annie’s.

- The bad sign for Davis’ relationship with WWOZ? Davis Rogan didn’t lose his job there for allowing an animal sacrifice (which happened in season one); he lost it for playing hip-hop on the air. For the real Davis, though, that also happened before Katrina.

- Jonathan Batiste (on piano) and Christian Scott (on trumpet) playing with Delmond at his gig in New York? Both have been living in New York for years and would have been in New York at this time. Scott is Donald Harrison’s nephew, and he has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Jazz Album. When Delmond’s “sympathizers” count off the names of the greats who have left New Orleans, they include “Christian” in that number.

- “Davis—you cleaned for me”? In real life, Davis Rogan’s notorious for the, umm, “lived-in” character of his place.

- John Boutte, Paul Sanchez and Craig Klein with Annie? During this time, Paul Sanchez started gigs that would sew the seeds for his Rolling Road Show, inviting friends to join him at his weekly gig at d.b.a. (instead of the Spotted Cat, where the sequence takes place). You get a strong sense the musical chance Sanchez was taking as Klein’s trombone is both right and odd because there’s nothing else near it in the sonic spectrum. Boutte sings the episode’s title song, “Accentuate the Positive,” and his own “Sisters.”

–Alex Rawls